My favorite sci-fi TV series of all time, #12: Dollhouse

From the X-Files to the… W-Files, I guess. (Some of these are harder than others.) Dollhouse features a number of Joss Whedon mainstays (from star Eliza Dushku to Amy Acker, Alan Tudyk, Felicia Day, Summer Glau, and Fran Kranz, among others). The basic plot is that using Science!, a corporation builds “dolls” for specific tasks by implanting them with false memories, which are then erased as time progresses. Gradually, one of them (Echo, played by Eliza Dushku) starts remembering her real life. Spoiler alert: it turns out that the organization that kidnaps people and erases their minds is somewhat evil. Who knew?

Favorite character: Most of the characters are fairly well fleshed out, and like many Whedon shows it relies on solid performances from the entire cast. Eliza Dushku is the easy choice for this one, as she’s the only character one could fairly call “main”. She was better as Faith, which I think is surprisingly close to her actual self, but this part was probably more difficult, as she has to play multiple roles (ala Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap).

Favorite secondary character: Alan Tudyk as Alpha, without the tiniest sliver of a doubt. He was magnificent as the psychopath who may or may not know he’s a psychopath. He steals the show in every single scene.

Why it’s on the list: It’s a superbly done show, with your usual Whedon style dialogue. The concept isn’t entirely unique, but it’s executed well, and there are enough plot twists to keep things interesting. I really liked the opening music as well.

Why it’s not higher: There is an odd fact about most Whedon series: they start slow. Both Buffy and Angel took about seven or eight episodes to catch fire. The first two or three episodes of Dollhouse do not establish the overall story arc well. They make the show seem like an excuse to show Eliza Dushku in as many tight clothes as possible. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). When you have six or seven seasons, you can afford to skip exposition from time to time. When you have two, you can’t. The finale to season one, “Epitaph”, is incredibly confusing and makes very little sense. I know why it is — Whedon thought that he wouldn’t get a second season — but it’s probably the worst single episode of any Whedon series. It’s not bad, and when you consider it in the context of the end of season two, it makes more sense, but it’s really poorly explained.

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